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Florida Association of Managing Entities President Maria Bledsoe Named Top 100 Women in Business for Second Consecutive Year

ORLANDO, Fla.–The Women’s Edge has for the second consecutive year named Central Florida Cares Health System CEO Maria Bledsoe a Top 100 Women in Business. Ms. Bledsoe is the President of the Florida Association of Managing Entities.

The Women’s Edge is a non-profit organization committed to advancing all women in leadership positions. This year’s honorees represent a diverse range of fields, spanning education, healthcare, travel & hospitality, finance, and more, illustrating the breadth of women’s leadership across the Sunshine State.

“I’m honored to have been named a ‘Top 100 Women in Business’ by The Women’s Edge. It’s truly a privilege to serve as the CEO of one of Florida’s seven Behavioral Health Managing Entities that work every day to connect Floridians in-need with the behavioral health services they need to thrive,” said Central Florida Cares CEO Maria Bledsoe.

Florida’s seven local Managing Entities work with a network of over 300 behavioral health care providers that deliver services to over 2 million Floridians, including children, expectant mothers, veterans, and the chronically homeless. Providers meet patients’ diverse needs with “wraparound services” that not only address mental health issues and substance abuse, but also assist with care coordination, housing, transportation, and employment. Community boards administer, manage, and ensure accountability of state and federal funds for behavioral health services, keeping oversight, transparency and accountability closest to the people they serve.

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Jacksonville psychologist: Alcohol-related health problems rising among women

Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO LSF Health Systems

new study published in this month’s Journal of the American Medical Association shows rising alcohol consumption among women is leading to higher rates of death and disease. While men still die more often from drinking-related causes than women, deaths among women are climbing at a faster rate.  

The report examined insurance claims data from 2017 to 2021 on millions of Americans ages 15 and older. Researchers found that during the first year and a half of the coronavirus pandemic, middle-aged women — likely due to increased alcohol consumption — were significantly more likely to experience serious complications like alcohol-related cardiovascular and liver disease, as well as severe withdrawal.  

This new research adds to other studies that show excessive alcohol consumption has generally increased during the last 20 years, while related deaths rose by almost 30% in America from 2016 to 2021.  

The COVID-19 pandemic — like other major catastrophes — caused widespread illness, loss of life and consequently stress that resulted in an increase in drinking habits. Subsequently, the pandemic sparked unprecedented increases in behavioral health problems including mental health disorders and substance use disorders. We’re still battling those impacts today.

In fact, alcohol sales jumped by almost 50% during the pandemic, the largest increase in more than 50 years. Multiple smaller studies suggest that during the pandemic about 25% of people drank more than usual.  

These new trends show increased substance abuse can cause damage to people’s hearts, livers and other organs. Furthermore, researchers in the study found excessive drinking linked to alcohol-related liver and heart disease. Drinking too much can also cause inflammation in your stomach lining which can lead to bleeding and pancreatitis.  

Additionally, alcoholism causes mood disorders. Many alcoholics develop fat in their liver which leads to a range of conditions that can develop when such fat begins to accumulate.  

When that damage from drinking builds up, scar tissue accumulates in the liver and leads to a later stage of the disease, called cirrhosis. Some people with alcohol-related liver disease then develop severe liver inflammation, known as alcohol-associated hepatitis.  

All these health issues and others, are impacting women at inordinate rates since the pandemic, which leads researchers to believe that there is an increased number of women who are exhibiting alcoholic behavior.  

Social and demographic trends can help explain why women are drinking at higher rates. For example, women are marrying and having children at later ages than in previous decades, so they spend more time in the high-risk period for heavy drinking.

Also, researchers noted that women often bore the brunt of family responsibilities and stress during the pandemic, which also contributed to their increased drinking.  

While many of these longer-term increases in drinking predate the pandemic, higher levels of drinking during lockdowns likely exacerbated these issues or contributed to new complications. Some of the health consequences of heavy drinking take time to develop and often emerge 20 or 30 years later. Complications can occur after years of heavy, persistent alcohol use. 

If you know someone showing symptoms of substance abuse disorder, initiate a nonjudgmental conversation with that person. Express your concerns while emphasizing your support and willingness to help. Encourage participation in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.  

These groups offer peer support and valuable insights from individuals who have faced similar challenges. 

You can also call our Access to Care line at (877) 229-9098 to find local resources to address the problems they’re struggling with. Visit us online and learn more about the services we offer at

Dr. Christine Cauffield, clinical psychologist, is CEO of LSF Health Systems in Jacksonville, a nonprofit organization that manages state-funded behavioral health in a 23-county area from Northeast Florida to North Central Florida. 

This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions

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Tampa General Hospital Partners with Central Florida Behavioral Health Network to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Hillsborough County

The academic health system works to increase access to behavioral health services with support from community partners.

Tampa, FL (Oct. 16, 2023) – Tampa General Hospital (TGH) announced today a new partnership with the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network (CFBHN) to treat Floridians suffering from opioid use in Hillsborough County and help put an end to the epidemic. Through a mobile unit program, IDEA (Infectious Disease Elimination Act) Exchange Tampa, Tampa General and CFBHN are offering a broad array of low-barrier health care services for those affected by opioid use disorder in the local community. This program is the first of its kind in the region.

“IDEA Exchange Tampa is the only mobile program in the region that offers treatment to Floridians affected by an opioid use epidemic,” said Dr. Jason Wilson, FACEP, associate professor and director of the Division of Emergency Medicine in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, associate medical director of the Emergency Department at Tampa General Hospital, and one of the medical directors for IDEA Exchange Tampa. “Deaths tied to opioid overdose in Hillsborough County this year are expected to exceed the 2022 death toll. By increasing access to care through the mobile unit, we can effectively prevent drug-related deaths and help patients get on the road to recovery.”

IDEA Exchange Tampa is free and offers both confidential and anonymous treatment options for symptoms that do not require an emergency room visit. Using the mobile unit, Tampa General and CFBHN can reach individuals in the communities where they live to administer buprenorphine, an FDA approved medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD), offer HIV and Hepatitis C screenings and treatments, treat general and injection-related wounds, provide referrals to addiction treatment programs, distribute Narcan, engage in peer navigation and address structural determinants of health through resources like an on-site food pantry and insurance navigation.

This mobile unit aims to reach individuals who either do not typically qualify for treatment in the community or are unable to access treatment. Tampa General and CFBHN have worked tirelessly to develop the relationships necessary to launch this partnership, which includes collaboration with several community stakeholders to address social determinants of health. Visits to IDEA Exchange Tampa focus on patients’ overall health and treatment options. In the three years since the mobile unit launched, IDEA Exchange Tampa has amassed more than 1,400 patients, reversed approximately 500 overdoses per month and treated 17 cases of HIV. “I am deeply moved by the positive effects this program has had in the local community, with empathy as a pillar of everything we do. We consider participants part of our key stakeholder network,” said Dr. Heather Henderson, CAP, CRPS, and one of the IDEA Exchange Tampa program directors.

Participants have the right to take an active role in developing new policies and services through the IDEA Exchange Tampa Community Advisory Board and are encouraged to do so. IDEA Exchange Tampa staff function in a peer capacity as well, through direct recovery from substance use or mental health. In addition, researchers within IDEA Exchange Tampa are using anonymous data from the program to measure impacts and identify facilitating factors, potential barriers to entry and effective risk-reduction tactics in the community.

“A partnership with an academic health system like TGH means that we can exponentially further our reach and improve care,” said Alan Davidson, MA, LMHC, the president and chief executive officer at CFBHN. “Providing patients with access to innovative health care solutions opens up a pathway which allows them the ability to pursue recovery in the future.”

IDEA Exchange Tampa is supported through collaborations among organizations throughout Florida, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Frontlines of Communities in the United States (FOCUS), Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE), AIDS United, USF Health, Tampa Bay Street Medicine, Pioneer Medical Foundation, Hillsborough County government and the Florida Harm Reduction Collective. To learn more about Tampa General, please visit To learn more about CFBHN, please visit To learn more about IDEA Exchange Tampa, please visit

Tampa General Hospital, a 1,040-bed, not-for-profit, academic health system, is one of the largest hospitals in America and delivers world-class care as the region’s only center for Level l trauma and comprehensive burn care. Tampa General Hospital is the highest-ranked hospital in the
market in U.S. News and World Report’s 2023-24 Best Hospitals, with six specialties ranking among the top 50 best hospital programs in the United States. Tampa General Hospital has been designated as a model of excellence by the 2022 Fortune/Merative 100 Top Hospitals list. The academic health system’s commitment to growing and developing its team members is recognized by two prestigious Forbes magazine rankings – in the top 100 nationally in the 2023 America’s Best Employers for Women and top 25 in Florida in the 2023 America’s Best Employers by State. Tampa General is the safety net hospital for the region, caring for everyone regardless of their ability to pay, and in fiscal year 2021, provided a net community benefit worth more than $224.5 million in the form of health care for underinsured patients, community education, and financial support to community health organizations in Tampa Bay. It is one of the nation’s busiest adult solid organ transplant centers and is the primary teaching hospital for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. With six medical helicopters, Tampa General Hospital transports critically injured or ill patients from 23 surrounding counties to receive the advanced care they need. Tampa General houses a nationally accredited comprehensive stroke center, and its 32-bed Neuroscience, Intensive Care Unit is the largest on the West Coast of Florida. It also is home to the Jennifer Leigh Muma 82-bed neonatal intensive care unit, and a nationally accredited rehabilitation center. Tampa General Hospital’s footprint includes 17 Tampa General Medical Group Primary Care offices, TGH Family Care Center Kennedy, TGH Outpatient Center, TGH Virtual Health, and 21 TGH Imaging outpatient radiology centers throughout Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Palm Beach
counties. Tampa Bay area residents also receive world-class care from the TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track network of clinics. To see a medical care professional live anytime, anywhere on a smartphone, tablet or computer, visit Virtual Health | Tampa General Hospital (
As one of the largest hospitals in the country, Tampa General Hospital is the first in Florida to partner with GE Healthcare and open a clinical command center that provides real-time situational awareness to improve and better coordinate patient care at a lower cost. For more information, go to

Central Florida Behavioral Health Network is a managing entity contracted with the Department of Children and Families to develop and manage the public safety net of care for behavioral health services. They are a not for profit 501 (c) (3) corporation and a CARF International Accredited Services Management Network organization* contracting with community service organizations to provide a full array of publically funded mental health and substance abuse services in fourteen SunCoast counties: Charlotte, Collier, Desoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota. Services include acute care, residential treatment, housing, medical, outpatient, recovery support, and prevention.

CARF is the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities Providing a transformational influence that is recovery focused, CFBHN empowers local communities to develop, advocate for, and implement innovative solutions to social, economic, and individual health and wellness problems impacting lives. They further accomplish their mission by seeking, developing and nurturing collaborative partnerships with high performing providers of compassionate and quality services. Together, CFBHN and these partners commit to meet the changing needs of public sector leadership, private sector employers and employees, and individuals who are in need of specialty healthcare services. To support these partnerships, CFBHN provides education and training, advocacy, research and development, and knowledge sharing of best practices.